Getting ready for the school year is often an exciting and nervous time for children. And this year, with the COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest dominating the news, along with memories of last year’s sudden stop and transition to home-based learning, children may be extra worried about what this year may bring.
It’s only natural that children feel uncertain about what may happen to them or their loved ones this year. You can help your children learn to cope with stress and adversity by helping them build resilience.
Resilience is the ability to withstand troubles and bounce back from them. Resilience helps people deal with bad news, difficulties, unexpected changes, or even trauma in healthy ways.
It’s not something we’re born with, but the good news is that resilience is a tool that can be developed and strengthened.
All children will have to deal with adversity throughout their life, and today’s students have faced an exceptional number of challenges just this year already.
The good news is that the more children are able to handle adversity and bounce back, the more they realize they are strong and capable of overcoming challenges. Resilient children learn to take more healthy risks in life, and they grow up with confidence to step outside their comfort zones.
“The ability to persist in the face of difficulty may be as essential to success as talent or intelligence,” writes psychologist Lisa Damour, PhD.
How to Develop Coping and Resilience Skills in Children
Building resilience in children can prepare them for an uncertain world and develop the tools they need to handle unexpected change in a positive way. Here are some ways to help build resilience in children.
- Be open and available. Create an environment where your children can ask questions that matter to them. Let them know that although things may change unexpectedly, they always have someone they can turn to, and that it’s OK to ask for help.
- Build their executive functioning. These are the self-regulating skills people use to make decisions and do things for themselves, including learning to manage feelings and develop coping strategies. You can help your children develop executive functioning by establishing routines, modeling positive behavior, and playing board games and games that involve memory.
- Spend one-on-one time with your children. Building a strong connection with your children can give them the foundation of a solid emotional relationship. Let your children know they have your support. When they know this, they’ll feel empowered to seek guidance and make attempts to work through difficult situations on their own.
- Get out and get physical. Exercise is important. Exercise strengthens the brain and makes it more resilient to stress. From playing catch or tag, to simply walking the dog, physical activity can help children think and react on their own.
- Encourage optimism. Optimism is one of the key traits of resilient people. Explain to your kids that there’s always a bright side to life. Help them understand that what goes wrong doesn’t matter as much as what they do next.
- Learn to label emotions. Stress can amplify emotions. Let your children know that emotions are important, and it’s OK to experience them. Once they’re able to label their feelings, they can make sense of what they’re experiencing.
- Model good behavior in your own coping skills and resiliency. When you experience a stressful situation, purposely use coping and calming strategies so your children can see them put into practice.
- Encourage healthy risk-taking. Healthy risks are those that allow a child to go outside their comfort zone, but they won’t seriously cause harm if they’re not successful. These could be things like trying a new sport, taking part in extracurricular activities, or talking to someone new. Learning to face fear is tremendously important in building resilience. Learning how to face fear responsibly is invaluable.
- Don’t fix everything. It’s a parent’s natural instinct to sweep in and solve problems for your children. Sometimes it’s necessary, but often allowing them to handle situations on their own (while knowing you’re supporting and understanding them) can help children grow to handle stress and challenges through their life.
- Lastly, let them know you love them no matter what. When everything else in the world seems uncertain, the unconditional love of a parent is a solid foundation.
- Hurley, Katie. “Resilience in Children: Strategies to Strengthen Your Kids.” Psycom. https://www.psycom.net/build-resilience-children
- Newman, Catherine. “7 Ways to Raise a Resilient Child.” Parents.com. https://www.parents.com/parenting/better-parenting/advice/ways-to-raise-a-resilient-child/
- Boudreau, Emily, and Elio Pajares. “Helping Children Cope With Coronavirus and Uncertainty.” Harvard Graduate School of Education. https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/20/03/helping-children-cope-coronavirus-and-uncertainty
- World Health Organization. “Helping Children Cope With Stress During the 2019-nCoV Outbreak.” https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/helping-children-cope-with-stress-print.pdf
- Young, Karen. “Building Resilience in Children – 20 Practical, Powerful Strategies (Backed by Science).” HeySigmund. https://www.heysigmund.com/building-resilience-children/
- Ehmke, Rachel. “Helping Kids Who Struggle With Executive Functions.” Child Mind Institute. https://childmind.org/article/helping-kids-who-struggle-with-executive-functions/